Monday 16 September 2019

£60,000 for Mr Insatiable

Jerome Reilly on the price of joining the 'rezoning game' FORMER Fianna Fáil Councillor Colm McGrath, the man dubbed "Mr Insatiable" by Frank Dunlop, is now alleged to have received at least £60,000 in payments to assist in rezoning.

The Flood tribunal was told on Friday that he received £30,000 in cash to assist in the rezoning of part of one of Europe's leading breeding farms Airlie Stud in Lucan from agricultural to residential lands in 1993. The payments followed persistent demands by McGrath, who originally wanted £50,000 in cash from Sonja Rogers widow of Captain Tim Rogers, renowned thoroughbred breeder, former aide de camp to Winston Churchill and a close friend of Charles Haughey.

Cllr McGrath was deselected as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the last local elections after it emerged he had received a separate £30,000 donation from Cork property developer Owen O'Callaghan.

Coincidentally, rezoning an 80-acre portion of Airlie Stud might also have benefited Fianna Fáil Deputy Liam Lawlor.

At the time a small portion of land @@STYL cf,plabx which he then owned at Somerton would have had to be rezoned as part of the proposal.

At the time of the rezoning application, property millionaire and amusement arcade tycoon Jim Kennedy had an option to purchase the Airlie Stud lands subject to rezoning.

Kennedy has been linked with Liam Lawlor in an investment vehicle called Pentagon Property Services, which owned lands in Lucan, and Mr Kennedy has also been publicly associated with the former Dublin City and County Manager George Redmond.

The Flood tribunal has been told that McGrath, who was named "Mr Insatiable" by Frank Dunlop during his testimony to the tribunal during the summer, received two envelopes each with £15,000 in cash from auctioneer William Coonan, who was acting on behalf of Mrs Rogers in trying to dispose of the lands.

The monies were handed over on two separate dates in early 1993 in the car park of the Spa Hotel in Lucan and in Maynooth village.

The Sunday Independent has learned that the Flood tribunal has received evidence that, while demanding the money, McGrath insisted that he was not the sole beneficiary and that the money would be spread around to other councillors "in favour" of rezoning. The evidence to the Flood tribunal is that McGrath said the money was for travel expenses, consultancy fees and to spread among other councillors.

This adds credence to Frank Dunlop's evidence that a highly-organised ring of graft and corruption existed at the heart of Dublin County Council in the early Nineties.

The central allegation is that not only was the payment of cash a prerequisite to joining the "rezoning game" where land could become 100 times more valuable at the stroke of a pen, but that failure to pay up would mean there was no chance of ever having the lands rezoned.

It is understood that the first payment of £15,000 was made in the first weeks of 1993 before a crucial vote on rezoning lands as part of a new county development plan.

A motion to include Airlie Stud in a rezoning package was proposed by Cllr Colm McGrath and was carried by a single vote.

On Friday, Mr Coonan appeared at the Flood tribunal, where he described himself as acting as a go-between between his clients and a county councillor.

Mr Coonan said he had received permission from his clients to name them and he wrote their names on a piece of paper.

He also wrote down the name of a county councillor who he said was not, and never had been, a member of the Fine Gael Party.

However, the Sunday Independent has learned that tribunal lawyers have already been told in private that the name of the principal client who agreed to the payment was Sonja Rogers and the recipient of the cash payment was Cllr Colm McGrath.

The tribunal has also been told that Cllr McGrath made a further demand for payments in advance of a final decision on rezoning later that year. The payment was refused and the lands were not rezoned in the 1993 plan as local opposition mounted.

Mrs Rogers, who later remarried leading fashion designer Ib Jorgensen, was unavailable for comment yesterday and Mr Coonan refused to comment after his appearance at the tribunal.

Repeated attempts were also made to contact Cllr Colm McGrath who did not return phone calls to his home and office.

Cllr Colm McGrath has left Fianna Fáil, but is still an independent South Dublin county councillor.

As well as being the recipient of £30,000 in donations from the Cork property developer Owen O'Callaghan, McGrath also received large payments from Frank Dunlop, according to evidence already before the tribunal.

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